The untold origin story of the N95 mask

At this time of the coronavirus epidemic, there is a massive demand for an N95 mask worldwide. It adapts very well to the face and very useful; it can filter the particles floating in the air. This article is about how the N Ninety Five Mask was created by changing the course of history from a simple mask.

Deodorant theory and the use of masks

When people started using masks, they had no idea that viruses or bacteria floating in the air could make people sick. This view was expressed by Christos Lintaris, an expert on the history of medical masks.

Marseille’s paintings of 1720 show that gravediggers and other people who searched the corpses covered their faces with cloth. The bubonic plague then plagued Marseille. According to Lenteris, people did not cover their faces and noses with towels to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Instead, they believed that diseases, such as plague, were a foul odor emanating from the earth’s surface. That’s why they used to cover their face and nose with a cloth to avoid bad smell.

A doctor in the seventeenth century wearing a plague mask.
Image source: Wiki Commons

This stench theory led to the use of plague masks throughout Europe in the 1600s. This plague mask was mainly used by doctors who identified the plague. Doctors at the time would identify infected patients with a gentle tap with a stick. These long masks were like the lips of a big bird. 

At the ends of the masks were two nostrils entrances that could be filled with perfume. People thought they could protect themselves from the disease by protecting themselves from the plague’s stench. “This idea of ​​man existed until the beginning of the nineteenth century,” Linteris said.

In the late 1870s, scientists came up with the idea of ​​bacteria. With the development of microbiology, the stench theory became extinct.

Surgical mask

In 1897, doctors first started using surgical masks. But this surgical mask was not used then to filter the particles floating in the air. They used it to prevent any drops of fluid from sneezing or coughing during surgery.

Health workers wearing anti-plague masks in Manchuria in 1911.
Image source: CRASSH, The University of Cambridge

Modern respirator

In the autumn of 1910, a plague broke out in Manchuria, now known as Northern China. One hundred percent of the patients would die within 24-48 hours of the onset of symptoms. To overcome this situation, the Royal Court of China hired a young doctor named Wu Lien-Teh. He studied medicine from Cambridge.

Wu diagnoses a patient with plague by autopsy; then, he said flies do not spread the plague; it is spread through the air.

He made a mask of a tougher nature than the kind of surgery masks he saw in the Western world. He made this mask with cotton cloth and gauze, which could cover the face very tightly. A few layers of cloth were also added to his mask to purify the breathing process. It was a groundbreaking discovery, but few doctors questioned its effectiveness.

There was a famous French doctor named Gerald Menci at that time. “Plague is an airborne and pneumonia-causing disease,” Wu explained to Menci. Menci insulted him when he heard Wu’s theory. Not only that, but he also went to a plague patient in the hospital without the mask invented by Wu to prove himself right. Unfortunately, in just two days, Mensi died of the plague. This famous incident then spread among the people.

Masked police officers during the flu outbreak in 1918.
Image source: CNN

Many doctors in the area were making their masks very quickly. But the masks they made were kind of weird,” Linters said. The mask made by Wu successfully passed the test to protect users from bacteria. “The design of the mask was outstanding. This mask could have been made with very cheap and available material,” Linteris added.

Between January and February 1911, the number of masks made increased hundreds of times. Health workers, soldiers, and ordinary people also started wearing this mask. This makes it possible to prevent the rapid spread of the plague. Wu’s mask was reported in various international newspapers. When the Spanish flu broke out in 1918, several companies began making masks in the form of Wu’s masks.

Gas mask

Gas masks were made during World War I and were also used by miners. Although these could be reused, gas masks were very uncomfortable and heavy for users due to fiberglass filters and heavy rubber objects.

German soldier wearing a gas mask during World War I
Image source:

N Ninety Five Mask

In 1956, designer Sarah Little Turnbull gave a presentation to the company ‘Three M.’ She said the company to expand business towards non-woven products. She gave the idea of ​​a hundred products, and she was given the responsibility of making molded bras. But in the late 1950s, Turnbull had to spend a lot of time in the hospital caring for sick family members. He lost three close people in a few days. Out of this sadness, Turnbull invented a new mask called the ‘Bubble’ surgical mask, which looked like a bra cup.

Design of surgical mask created by Turnbull
Image source: Center for Design Institute

Three M Company released the ‘Bubble’ surgical mask in 1961. When the company realized that this mask could not resist germs, it was renamed ‘Dust’ Mask.

In 1970, the Department of Mines and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health developed standards for one-time respirators. The first 3M company to make the N95 mask was approved on May 25, 1972.

N95 Mask made by 3M Company
Image source:

The N Ninety-Five Mask was initially made for factory use. A professor at the University of Tennessee, Peter S. N Ninety Five, later invented the virus-resistant technology. It was patented in 1995. Since then, the Ninety Five Mask has been widely used in the health sector to prevent infectious diseases.

Professor Peter Sai, father of the modern N-Ninety Five Mask
Image source: CNN

The reason for naming “Ninety-Five

N: The letter N is used to mean ‘not resistant to oil’; Because this mask will only resist object particles, not any liquids.

Ninety-Five: This mask can filter 95 percent of the particles floating in the air, hence the name ‘Ninety Five.’

The Ninety-Five Mask is an essential tool for health workers in the fight against Covid-19. At the end of this war, the role of the mask will find a place in the pages of History. And maybe one of the readers will write about that history in your favorite Blog4Today!